“And when the sun rises in a few hours the world will behold the Four Horsemen — enemies of mankind!”
An Argentinian cattle baron (Pomeroy Cannon) with two European son-in-laws — a Frenchman (Josef Swickard) and a German (Alan Hale) — favors his rakish French grandson Julio (Rudolph Valentino) over all others. Meanwhile, the arrival of World War I wreaks havoc on the family’s tenuous ties, as well as Julio’s love affair with the wife (Alice Terry) of an older attorney (John St. Polis).
Based on a “mystical” novel by Spanish author Vicente Blasco-Ibanez, this epic silent film (directed by Rex Ingram) broke all box office records the year of its release (it was the first film to gross more than one million dollars), and became the sixth highest grossing silent film of all time. It’s widely known as the film that brought “Latin Lover” Rudolph Valentino (real name: Rodolfo Alfonzo Raffaelo Pierre Filibert Guglielmi di Valentina D’Antonguolla!!!) into the spotlight as a leading man, and his charisma is clearly evident — at one point, while in the midst of seducing a woman, he actually turns to the camera in a quick aside, as though to wink at the audience! His early, sultry tango scenes — not part of the original novel — are so sensual and evocative that they made the dance a hit craze for a while.
As far as the story goes, it’s a fairly standard overblown saga of forbidden romance, family feuds, and the inevitable tragedy of war — with Germans emerging as the definite baddies of the bunch (it was released, after all, just three years after the end of World War I, when sentiments were still raw). Meanwhile, the integration of a “mystical” element into the story — embodied by a wacky neighbor (Nigel De Brulier) who foretells the coming of the “four horsemen of the Apocalypse” (hence the film’s title) — is simply silly and heavy-handed. But Ingram has a fine directorial hand, framing his scenes carefully and adding unique visual touches — many of which are quite memorable (see stills below); and the “DeMille”-ian amounts of money spent on the production seem to have been put to good use, given Ingram’s ability to effectively present the devastation of war (see also stills below). Remade by Vincente Minnelli (!) in 1962, with Glenn Ford (!) starring as Julio.
Redeeming Qualities and Moments:
- Rudolph Valentino as Julio
- A devastating portrait of war
- Powerful imagery
Yes, for its historical importance. Listed in the back of Peary’s book as a film with Historical Relevance.